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Inspiration, History, Independence, & The Message of One Charismatic Women

16 Mar

This is the third in a series of pieces on how volunteering in Anse la Raye, St. Lucia with Global Volunteers, working toward raising the IQ of a nation, fundamentally changed my husband Dan and me. The two weeks we spent on the island in this village made us reach well beyond where we thought we were capable of going and moved us so far outside our comfort zones that we had to change how we “saw” the world. P1170064 (2)

Each morning of my service program I walked through the gates of the Primary School in Anse la Raye. Each day the students were lined up on the concrete walk leading to their classrooms. Each morning I was greeted by the powerful voices of staff members delivering the messages of the day or honoring students.

In the middle of my first week, one that ended in St. Lucia’s Independence Day, I walked up as the third grade teacher, Ms. Aleen Edward, was delivering the morning messages.  Ms. Edward, by her presence, her posture and her attitude, commands respect like no one I have ever met. When she speaks, everyone in earshot feels compelled to absolutely pay attention.

In her powerful voice she delivered this question: “What does it mean to be independent?”  And then, after the most perfectly timed pause, “Independence does not mean doing your own thing. Independence means doing the right thing, your own way.”

She went on to deliver the most soul stirring summary of the importance of independence from slavery and outside rule.  And then, just when I thought I could not be more moved, Ms. Edward took my breath away.

“Do the right thing, the positive thing, the good thing in your own way.”

This hard driving, young woman went on with such passion. “Learn from those who are working hard to do the right thing. They learn, they study, they respect,” she said.

She took a deep breath and in a calm but firm voice continued, “Be independent thinkers and independent learners.”

Ms. Edward turned up the volume just a bit and repeated, “Independence is not doing your thing. Independence is doing the right thing your own way.”

Up another notch and, “Read it and say it confidently.”

The whole school – students, teachers, staff, and I – repeated after her:

Independence is not doing your own thing. Independence is doing the right thing your own way.

“Say it again,” she said.

Independence is not doing your own thing. Independence is doing the right thing your own way.

And then louder and louder and louder with each recital.

In the classroom Ms. Edward commands this same respect and moves many of her students to action. She is passionate about teaching and leading and I felt that every time she was near.

Yes, Ms. Edward expects a lot from her students and she drives them very hard but Ms. Edward gets results. I watched student want to perform to get her approval. I watched postures and degree of intensity change simply because Ms. Edward asked a question. That is an amazing and awe-inspiring quality and one that I don’t see, or at least don’t recognize, in my day-to-day life.

As I listened to Ms. Edward that morning, every inch of my body filled with goose bumps, I knew I wanted to write about her and share the story of the impact of one powerful, charismatic woman on this one day on this little school in Anse la Raye.

And I thought about my recurring theme:

One intention, one thought, one action, one moment, one person at a time is the only way to change the status quo.P1170083 (2)

Ms. Edward is moving the needle in a powerful direction. It may not be the right direction for every single child – nothing ever is – but she is a rare, motivating force who inspires those around her to aspire to maximize their personal potential. I remain in awe.

Again….

One intention, one thought, one action, one moment, one person at a time is the only way to change the status quo.

How Living Outside Our Comfort Zone Changed Our Perspective & Opened Our Possibilities

2 Mar

This is the first in a series of pieces on how volunteering in Anse la Raye, St. Lucia with Global Volunteers, working toward raising the IQ of a nation, fundamentally changed my husband Dan and me. The two weeks we spent on the island in this village made us reach well beyond where we thought we were capable of going and moved us so far outside our comfort zones that we had to change how we “saw” the world.

Before we decided to serve on the St. Lucia Project, we agreed to live within the people of Anse la Raye’s cultural norms. We agreed to observe and not interfere. We agreed to not impose our values on the situation and respect the way of the life in the village.P1170045 (2)

I read that there was corporal punishment in the schools. With that fact and the solid knowledge that I have never been very patient with other people’s grade school aged children (so much so that I actually have a name for them – OPCs) in mind, I listed teaching in the Primary School (3rd through 6th grade) as my very last choice assignment.P1170023 (2)

That, however, is where I was most needed and where I was reassigned. So that is where I went.
All the literature from Global Volunteers stresses to “expect the unexpected”.

Unexpected event #1: I was prepared to spend the two weeks digging in the dirt on the Earth Box project and I packed clothes appropriate specifically for that job. There is a dress code in the schools and female volunteers must wear neat looking, professional, loose shirts with sleeves and pants/skirts that come below the knee. So…first thing Monday morning, to move beyond my wardrobe malfunction, the Country Manager took me with her on her trip to the town 20 km away to buy a few shirts suitable for the classroom.

We got back from town and I walked in my room, the one where students would come in and look to me to help them with reading and writing, at 12:30.P1160833 (2)

A young man about 10 years old came in the room as I arrived. He asked if he could be first. Before I could smile or say a word an imposing man with a short belt draped over his shoulder, walked in and snatched the child out of the room. I was stunned. It was so sudden.

From next door: “What are you doing Boy?” And then I heard the crack of the belt.…

That was my introduction to the principal and my cue that 1) this man was solidly in charge; 2) I was, in no uncertain terms, expected to follow his rules; and 3) if I did not someone, in this case a child asking what at the time felt like an innocent question, would pay the price.

Message sent and received. Loudly, clearly, and oh so chillingly. Could I really find the strength to swallow the words, all coated with a thick layer of bile, burning their way up my throat…?

Yes, I’d been told that they used the belt so, I guess that should not have been such a shock. I just did not expect that I would hear the snap as it made contact, feel the children hold their breath to brace themselves, and lose a bit of my soul with each crack.

I’ve been told it is better now. The government has regulated the length of the belt, narrowed significantly who can hand out/authorize punishment, and mercifully restricted contact to the hands (mostly the palms). Small steps and that is good.

I’d agreed to observe and not interfere. I’d agreed to not impose my values and respect the way of life in Anse la Raye. I’d agreed to go where I was needed and asked to serve. This moment was the symbol of the culture that I, like it or not, agreed to live within. I had agreed to do this and be here.P1160816 (2)

Right then I understood that I had to find a way to steel myself so I could figure out what I was supposed to do and how I could, as I knew I needed to do, leave this place better than I found it. My focus needed to remain on sharing a bit of joy with these students through positive interactions.

At the end of the day as I sat with Dan and we both processed the magnitude of the lifetime we had both experienced in one day, I decided to set an intention for the trip and a goal each day. My initial goal was to have a peaceful day with the principal and take a step toward my intention: making a real, mutually respectful connection with him.

I made a promise to this program and to this village to observe and not interfere so I needed to shift, oh so quickly, and figure out what purpose my presence might best serve.P1170068 (2)

To be completely fair, if someone else had written this and I was reading it as you are  now, I would most likely comment that I could not swallow those words and that I would never be able to establish a relationship with such a man. I might even go into a self-righteous speech about human rights and dignity. I might further deliver an impassioned monologue outlining how it is not possible to teach children about how to live peacefully with one another by beating them into submission. Yes, I bet I would…but

I made a promise to this program and to this village to observe and not interfere so I needed to shift, oh so quickly, and figure out what purpose my presence might best serve.P1160956 (2)

So I set that intention – to take small steps toward mutual understanding and to spread the power of positive – and I wrote it in stone. My hope was that working toward a genuine connection would help break the cycle for this man with the power to shape lives, and leave him a bit more open to the possibilities with each new volunteer. My deepest wish was that I could leave a good enough impression, one centered on the power of positive, that I might shift the momentum just a bit – maybe enough for the person to move the needle just a bit more.20150219_080446

One intention, one thought, one action, one moment, one person at a time is the only way to change the status quo.

We are exploring how to stretch our thinking, expand our world, and keep our brains firing through purposeful travel. 

From the Journal of St. Lucia Project Team 32: Daily Inspiration & Forming New Habits

26 Feb

It takes two weeks of repeated practice to establish a new habit.

Good thing because I absolutely love, and want to make a habit of, sharing a message of the day with those I am working with each and every day as we are doing each day to start our morning meeting for the St. Lucia Project.

We are taking turns sharing thoughts — some are quotes from others, some are our own thoughts, and some (those shared by the one who just can’t leave well enough alone…me) create a variation of the two.

Here are a few of our thoughts from this week and a few photos.

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MESSAGE OF THE DAY:  Barbara 

Challenges are what makes life interesting, and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.  Joshua J. Marine

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MESSAGE OF THE DAY: Dan 

Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for your uniqueness on this Earth, you would not be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in world come about. So be that one person!

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MESSAGE OF THE DAY: Ruth 

We spoke yesterday about not knowing what you can or might just love to do until you try. When you move beyond your comfort zone, you expand your horizons and your possibilities. 

I am the keeper of the Journal for Team 32 — it is my responsibility to make sure that everything gets typed in and turned in at the end of the trip. Last night as I was putting in the entries from earlier in day, I read through all the Message of the Day entries. Oh my how we have evolved and oh my how it shows in what we choose to share each day.

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From the Journal of St. Lucia Project Team 32: Little Things Catching My Attention

25 Feb

My entry from Monday, February 23 recapping my Friday activities as part of St. Lucia Project Team 32.

“Friday was a bit disjointed for both Barbara and me: RCP had planning meetings and the Primary School was pretty consumed with Independence Day activities. When I arrived at the school all of the children were outside, many dressed in the patriotic colors of the St. Lucian flag. The children answered questions, read passages about historical events, and several teachers spoke about national pride and patriotism. It was fascinating and uplifting to hear and feel the depth of the passion behind the words. There was one thing from the morning session that stuck with. One of the teachers asked the students to name patriotic acts—specific things that citizen might do to show they love their country. The first answer? Vote. It felt like the perfect answer and one I wished that every child would give, everywhere, first.Flag_of_Saint_Lucia

Chemida brought Barbara over to help at the Primary School so we got organized and started down our long list of students to see, ready to have a full day of one-on-one sessions in both literacy and math. On the way to meet Dan and Chemida for lunch, I snapped photos of the route we walked, the houses and buildings on the way, and an awesome pile of nuts drying in the sun. The little things continue to catch my attention. The father holding his child’s hand. How warmly people greet each other. The produce on the tables in the street. The detail of the braids and the care placed in the ribbons and clips in the girls’ at the Primary School’s hair. The trusting reception I continue to get from just about everyone I speak to—especially the children at the school.P1160801

When we got back from lunch Barbara and I found out that there was a competition—game show quiz style and all about Independence Day—that started at 1:15 and lasted the rest of the day. We went in and watched for a while as proud students representing the four “houses” in the school answered questions based on facts about St. Lucia.  I just love the national pride and deep understanding of the island’s history that is taught in the schools….

I seem to be on solid ground with the principal and am loving the one-on-one sessions with the students. Dan continues to be an inspirational rock star. And Barbara seems to be feeling more at ease with her role and appreciate the work she is doing with RCP. Bring on week 2 with all its bumps and disruptions! We are ready!”

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From the Journal of St. Lucia Project Team 32: The Inspirational Rock Star

24 Feb

As part of our work on the St. Lucia Project with Global Volunteers we, as a team are keeping a journal. One member per day writes an inspirational message and a different person writes a longer journal entry recapping the previous day. Both are presented at our morning meeting. We have an incredibly small team — there are three of us and I guess the optimum size is 14.P1160797

I have been having a bit of difficulty putting how I feel about my days at the Primary School in Anse la Raye into words and sharing that all with you here. Processing the real life manifestations of a huge cultural differences and easing the cognitive dissonance caused by the gross inequities in the world are going a bit more slowly than I anticipated.  P1160829

My husband Dan has been an inspirational rock star. He is working with a group of young adults in the island’s equivalent of a last chance school. Each one faces serious academic challenges and, for the most part, are not equipped to go out into the world. Here is a piece of his journal entry for Thursday, recapping Wednesday, February 18.

“My message of the day yesterday was about never underestimating your ability to make someone else’s life better and not even knowing it, but how cool is it when you see something happen? A student came in and didn’t think I had anything to offer…. We chatted about day-to-day events and the topic of a job interview came up…. He’s never had one and could I help… and thus began our work.

Barb talked about a good day with lots of working and baby interaction. Ruth had a long day that ended with the knowledge that she did such a good job convincing the principal of her competence that he left her alone…all alone…oops maybe too good a job….”

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It all sounds so routine and everyday but hidden between the lines is the fact that Dan might have changed the course of a young man’s life that day. Absolutely staggering….P1160807

I know the humbling daily lessons will continue and the words will come in their own time.

One day, and in some cases, one life changing moment at a time.

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Changes, Cultural Adjustments, and Wardrobe Malfunctions

18 Feb

First, a couple puzzles from the photos I have taken so far on our volunteer trip to St. Lucia. I am not allowed to take photos in the village where we are working yet — it is essential that we not look like tourists but become part of the community as best we can. Starting on Thursday I will be able to snap a few photos so much more to come!

We have had to do some serious shifting and paying attention to the details has been critical. Before talking about those shifts, here are two Find the Difference so you can work on paying attention to the details.  Can you find the three differences in each of these?

Organizing and unpacking the supplies donated by so many generous people!

Organizing and unpacking the supplies donated by so many generous people!

ANSWER

Find three more differences in this one!

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The Catholic Church in Anse La Raye originally built in 1796 but rebuilt several times over the years.                  They are one of our hosts for this project.

ANSWERS

Now a peak into the first few days our #AdventureInService.

One of the first things stressed in all the material we received from Global Volunteers before leaving for our trip to work on the St. Lucia Project is be prepared to expect the unexpected.

We were ready to shift gears and pace. We were ready to roll with the punches as things came up and were fully prepared to be alert and to be ready to think on our feet.  We were even prepared to accept and work within a whole different set of cultural norms — even those that made us uncomfortable (and there are a few).

We were completely prepared to serve the local community — not teach or lead but do what needed to be done to best support.

essentialserv

The foundation of Global Volunteers 12 Essential Services project. The idea is that if you take care food and health and support children psychosocially, you can raise the IQ of a nation….

What we did not expect, however, was to change assignments after we arrived in Anse La Raye — especially when that assignment changed required completely different clothes to be appropriate and respectful!

Two weeks before we left, our assignments came via email along with very specific, culturally appropriate clothing requirements. Dan was going to be working in the Primary School and I was assigned to the Earth Box project. There is a dress code for volunteers who work in the schools so we took great pains to prepare Dan’s clothing so he was dressed appropriately.

I was going to be digging in the dirt and working with local mothers setting up Earth Boxes so each could have a variety of fresh vegetables at their own homes and available to them at the Catholic church in a space where the grounds have more than a few square feet to spare. All I needed to worry about was that I had simple clothing, not too tight, and pants that covered my knees.

When we arrived, we found out that the supplies for Earth Boxes were not there…. No seedlings. Not enough peat moss…..  So I was reassigned to…the Primary School!

The amazing project leader helped me fix the wardrobe failure (that is a long story for another day) and we again shifted! We are now better prepared and are expected more unexpected things.

My comfort zone is expanding every day in so many unimaginable ways!!

Leaving Your Mark on the World: Projects Close to Home

13 May

The world is so full of need. Providing a way for people to lift themselves up and empower them to live a healthier, more productive life is so important, and something that helps us all “Be” better.   When I think of volunteer travel, I imagine working in a community in some far off country where people, living in third world conditions, desperately need a helping hand.

It might surprise you that you don’t need a passport to find a worthwhile, life changing volunteer vacation that will help you lift up others, travel, develop a deep appreciation for another culture, and experience new ways of looking at life while you find and serve your purpose. Yes, there are places in the US that lack essential services for their residents, particularly their children, to thrive, and those communities need our help as well.

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There are many volunteer vacation options and projects in the US. It is so important to find the right match for you, your interest, your travel needs, and your health status.  Check out JustGive.org for an extensive listing and to match what you are looking for and what you need with a project.

My interests revolve around brain development and Global Volunteers, a US based nonprofit I discovered while exploring volunteer vacations, shares that passion.  This organization just gets it that if we create an environment for people to grow and thrive, that, by itself will allow more brains to reach their potential and people to contribute to the world on a deeper level.  Brains need good nutrition, stimulation, social interaction, and purpose to feed the chemical and electrical systems that fuel neuron growth.

global volunteers logoGlobal Volunteers crafts projects that focus on helping fill areas of need – in particular those that help lift the community as a whole and build healthier, more productive community members.  When I spoke the founder Michele Grand, last month, we talked about how each of their projects around the world, zeroes in on those essential services people need to thrive.  That is a concept and focus that I believe will enable us all to leave our positive lasting mark.

Let’s look at a project on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation in Montana facilitated by Global Volunteers.  This is an isolated community with huge holes in essential services needed to build strong, productive brains.  Global Volunteers, under the guidance of community leaders, created an immersive program that allows small groups to spend a week working in the early childhood center or the assisted living facility or the community college or the care center or other areas where the need is great.   Mentor, build, share knowledge, and enhance your own brain health by serving your purpose in a challenging, fulfilling, social environment…. How great is it that you can contribute on such a meaningful level using all those skills that you have accumulated over the years?  DIGITAL CAMERA

The fact that Global Volunteers understands that Baby Boomers are the both the now and the future of meaningful volunteering just seals the deal for me.  Looking for a meaningful way to spending some time leaving your mark on the world?  Check out the Global Volunteers projects all over the world!

I have not been compensated by Global Volunteers in any way — just given the gift of one of the co-founder’s time to talk about building better brains globally!

Picture Yourself as a Purposeful Volunteer: Citizen Science

16 Apr

My husband and I, still buzzing from our recent experience with Citizen Science in Belize, are looking for our next meaningful adventure and a way to challenge ourselves to learn and serve our purpose as part of our leisure time. That means a volunteer vacation where we can contribute to the world in general, and scientific understanding of the planet in particular.

As I started looking, I discovered that there are many Citizen Science Projects out there and some are part of volunteer vacations. Unlike many people our age however, we have not accumulated tons of vacation time — we are both serial entrepreneurs and have been working for companies we owned and operated since the late 1980’s and that means no paid vacations – nor are we in even semi-retirement so we need to find a trip that fits in our lives. With that in mind, we decided to go back to what we knew worked for us before see what else PoD Volunteer – the company that coordinated our trip to the Reef Preservation Project in Belize with ReefCI – had to offer.

Libby's crew

New friends from so many places. Yeah, we did lots of laughing :)!

On PoD’s site I found the section that described the type of volunteering we could do. Within that drop-down, I found a selection called Short Projects (1 to 3 weeks). No sense falling in love with a project that requires more than a 2 week commitment…. I found 21 projects, all over the world, that were 1 to 3 weeks stay…. Pretty cool.

PoD Volunteering

Now to choose the type of volunteering: Animals, Conservation, Child Care, Teaching, or Community. As I dug in more I found a wide variety of tasks and purposes for each of the trips ranging from sports coaching to habitat restoration to construction to teaching to animal reintroduction!

Next choice is location. What an amazing variety of locations. After much consideration and a conversation on Twitter with Gemma from PoD (follow them on Twitter @PoDVolunteer) we are looking seriously at a conservation project in Peru. This is a 2 to 4 week project that involves learning about and collecting data in the Amazon rain forest and includes so many cool activities – all based out of an award winning eco-lodge….

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Time to do a little more exploring and a bit of comparing! More to come!

Finding the Perfect Purposeful Project Fit: Global Volunteers

5 Apr

On my quest to find meaningful and purposeful ways for Baby Boomers to spend time, I stumbled on something and someone “truly amazing”: Global Volunteers and its co-founder Michele Gran.

global volunteers logo

As I dug through the organizational literature, I found that this nonprofit runs volunteer projects around the world – each one making a significant difference in the health and well-being of the community it serves, and each one providing needed and valuable services.

And, it gets better. This global organization is delivering all of this the exact, right way. All projects are done in conjunction with local organizations so that each project is built to best support the real needs of the community as seen from the inside. That hits us, the Baby Boomer generation at our core values, and hits me, on every single responsible, brain healthy activity level – we can Be Active, Be Social, Be Engaged, and Be Purposeful while being responsible and respectful of community and cultural values.

As I dug deeper, I found that about 30% of Global Volunteers’ current participants are Baby Boomers. I was so encouraged and intrigued by this focus that I reached out to Michele Gran, Trustee and Co-Founder, and she graciously agreed to speak with me.

When I asked Michele how she saw the value of Baby Boomers serving as volunteers, she explained that this 30 year old organization “grew up with the Baby Boom generation and to date Boomers have been the backbone of the Global Volunteers.”

Michele believes that we are the generation of change makers and that perspective makes us the perfect match for volunteer work. Service projects are the perfect vehicle for this huge group of ready willing and able-bodied people with a passion for fairness and social justice. Michele believes that we were raised on these values and, as we age, our generation will find service and service projects as a way to fulfill that need to find a deeper purpose.

And then the conversation turned to brain health and the St. Lucia project…. We talked about how brains need the proper environmental support to grow, develop, and thrive. With that basic premise in mind, Michele and her team built a demonstration project on St. Lucia as a perfect way to build the case for promoting healthy brain development – change the basic conditions, one community at a time, and change the world.

This video (only a 1:22 long and is worth every second) set the bait, got me to bite, and reeled me in – hook, line, and sinkers.

Talk about the most perfect fit…. More on Global Volunteers projects later but for now, it is so reassuring to know that I am not screaming into a vacuum. There are organizations out there, directed by people who “get it” – we just need to find what matches best for each of us.

What kind of service projects help you serve your purpose?


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